An important qualifier event for the 2013 World Baseball Classic will take place in Panama City, Panama, November 15-19 in a battle that has been called, the “death bracket.” The round-robin affair features the national teams from Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua and Panama, with the winner receiving a berth in next year’s tournament.
It seems a bit unfair to me that the three latter-mentioned nations don’t all get a bid to the big dance, based on the big league players they carry on their rosters. Look at a team like Spain, for example, which has already punched its ticket, along with Italy and The Netherlands, all which will represent Europe. These clubs might be on a par with Brazil, who will likely finish last in Panama City. But they weaken the overall competition while some of the better teams end up going home. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect planet.
The Brazilians will field an interesting squad led by Andre Rienzo, a promising triple-A pitcher in the Chicago White Sox organization. Cleveland Indians catcher/infielder Yan Gomes will also play, along with a sizable group of natives who make a living in Japan with the Yakult Swallows of Tokyo.
The Cafeteros of Colombia have kept their roster somewhat of a mystery, except that former MLB star Edgar Renteria will be the team captain, spokesman and inspirational guru. It is even rumored that Renteria has taken the high road and patched up a longtime family feud with Orlando Cabrera and his older brother Jolbert, all in the interest of patriotic unity.
As of this post, Los Angeles Angels closer Ernesto Frieri and Atlanta Braves hurler Julio Teheran have not been cleared to play by their American employers, nor has White Sox lefty Jose Quintana. It has been confirmed, however, that the Barranquilla brothers, Donovan Solano and Jhonatan Solano will add some major league experience to the group.
Nicaragua, who is ranked 14th among WBC teams, is the top seed in this dogfight. President Daniel Ortega is pumped up, and I wonder if the Sandinista leader has placed a friendly wager with Panama’s president Ricardo Martinelli, even though they aren’t all that friendly. Damn, here I go with my politics again.
Seriously, the Nicas are very good. The pitching staff will be led by Seattle Mariners right-handed youngster Erasmo Ramirez. San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera will anchor the infield, and Corn Island residents Cheslor Cuthbert (love that name) and Dwight Britton will make their presence known. Since Houston Astros reliever Wilton Lopez has reportedly not received permission to compete and free agent Vicente Padilla declined the offer (who cares?), the mound corps could be a bit thin. But no worries. Former big league great Dennis Martinez, a Nicaraguan legend, is the the team’s manager and is still in good enough shape to toe the rubber in an emergency.
The hosts from Panama, however, are my pick to take the trophy. Their stacked lineup will include New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, free-agent slugger Carlos Lee, and All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz of the Philadelphia Phillies. Even former New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox pitcher Ramiro Mendoza, now 40, is part of the mix. The sinker ball specialist owns five World Series rings, but admits to feeling a lot of motivation to play these days.
“It’s like a sense of pride to me” says the man folks call “El Brujo,” or the witch (doctor). “It’s an honor to wear Panama’s uniform, and I want to do well here at home for the fans.”
The MLB Network will cover parts of this series, and all 39 WBC tournament games next year.